What’s the most important thing in bespoke shirtmaking? To London based Wil Whiting, the answer is simple. “Everything I do is about getting the fit right,” he tells Robb Report. “I rip down my shirts and re-baste them for customers, so a client can expect three or four fittings on each shirt to perfect its fit—no one else does that.”
In fact, Whiting makes standard practice of a lot of things no one else would consider. Most shirtmakers insist on a minimum order for new clients – four shirts, say. One of these will be a ‘trial shirt’ made up as a tester before the final three are cut. Often, this shirt isn’t quite right, which means if you pay for four shirts you’ll only end up with three you can wear. Whiting doesn’t hold with this—choose four shirts, and he’ll include a trial shirt as a fifth piece.
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Then there’s the amount of time Whiting’s workshop spends on each customer’s shirt. The four seamstresses he’s recruited and trained spend in excess of 12 hours on every shirt between them, while bigger makers might only spend two or three.
If his operating procedure seems a bit unorthodox, so was his journey into making some of the finest handmade shirts you can get. “I studied Computer Science at Edinburgh University, went into finance, and then progressed into consulting,” says Whiting. “I always had an interest in menswear, but there was a family expectation that I’d do something corporate.”
When he had trouble finding shirts he thought felt right for the white collar world, his research led him to Jermyn Street shirtmaker David Gale. “I approached him and he made me sit there for three hours, quizzed me, and then offered to train me as a shirtmaker on the spot. I wanted to do something creative and there was a master craftsman offering to teach me – it just made sense to make the switch.”
Following 18 months learning the ropes under Gale at Hilditch & Key, Whiting went his own way in 2015. Unsurprisingly, with his eye for design and couture approach, his client list has grown steadily ever since. From one-piece collar piqué polos to immaculate business shirts in the finest cotton twill, Whiting will turn his measuring tape to anything.
No matter what you go for, there are a few things you can rely on. Slip on a Wil Whiting shirt and it’ll hang perfectly from your shoulders (this is something that he pays special attention to) and drape smoothly across your torso. Whether you choose superfine Swiss poplin that feels like satin, or sumptuous cotton and cashmere flannel, just buttoning your shirt at the start of the day is a luxurious experience.
This feeling is helped by the technical precision that Whiting insists upon. All his shirts use between 22 and 28 stitches per inch, which is as fine as it gets and ensures that seams are as smooth to the touch as possible. Checks and stripes are matched across a shirt’s different panels, and Whiting offers three levels of make. Machine stitched shirts start from £500 (about $603 at current exchange), with partly hand-finished and fully hand-finished shirts beyond that (both price-on-request). He also offers handmade shirt jackets (from £2,000, or $2,412) in a variety of superfine cottons, lightweight tailoring cloths, Loro Piana cashmere and luxury denim.
Whiting’s other strength is his flexibility. Traditional shirtmakers prefer to make stiff collars and dislike the lightweight interlinings used in contemporary shirts. That’s not the case with Whiting, whose collars look exceptionally crisp, and yet feel effortlessly comfortable on the neck. “I offer over 15 different kinds of collar lining,” he explains. “I’ll make every single collar pattern bespoke for a client, and we’ll discuss it together. For a formal look, I’ll recommend a fused collar, but for something more relaxed we’ll create a loose-lined collar that looks and feels fit for purpose.”
Perhaps it’s his corporate background, his obsessive personality, or the simple fact that he’s part of a growing community of young craftspeople in London today, but Whiting’s approach is truly refreshing.
“It’s about making a bespoke shirt that feels relevant,” he says, “and there is nothing that I won’t do. If I can make a client his dream shirt, that’s enough for me.”